Sunday, May 26, 2024

Succession Removes The Masks And Spills The Hard Truths

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Succession has never been shy about the false nature of the lives its characters live. Whether it’s their actual wealth, their images, the success of their companies or business initiatives, their ambitions, or even their relationships with each other, Succession has always been a show riddled with half truths and outright lies, with very character so hopelessly lost in false perceptions that they can hardly tell who they are or what they really want.

This week, even if temporarily, these illusions were dispelled. I’m sure they will put up a new front quickly enough, but for some of these characters, Succession seems to have changed their lives in a permanent way.

Shiv and Mattson attending a party

The main change seems to be the permanent dissolution of Tom and Shiv’s marriage. They started off the episode in something of a good place, but as I wondered last week, the opportunities Shiv saw through Mattson cause frictions between her and Tom that boil over into an ugly, brutally honest exchange that seems to have ended their relationship for good.

(Shiv also might have ruined her relationship with her brothers, but we’ll get to that.)

It was one of those arguments where both sides are pretty much right about everything they said, and makes you wonder how they lasted this long to begin with. From the second we see Tom and Shiv together, it’s pretty clear that Shiv didn’t love him that much, and that Tom saw her as an opportunity for power. I’d argue Tom was more invested in truly loving Shiv, but he wouldn’t have put up with Shiv’s open marriage games or many obvious betrayals if the marriage hadn’t benefited his career.

With the future of Waystar and Tom’s career at ATN now largely up in the air, he no longer has much of a reason to put up with Shiv walking around a party suggesting that Tom’s toast once Mattson buys the company. The thing that allowed him to cast that illusion convincing himself that he should stay married to Shiv is gone. All that’s left is the hard truth, that they were together for mutual benefit and the benefits are gone.

The moment Succession pushed it beyond repair was definitely Tom’s angry claim that Shiv is a bad person to have children with, considering she very much is pregnant with his baby. It was an attack too low, too cruel, and too ill-timed for these two to recover from. And you know, that’s probably for the best. I’m sure the eventual revelation of Shiv’s pregnancy will cause some half-hearted apology from Tom, but it won’t really matter and won’t mean much towards fixing things.

I said last week that Shiv’s ambitions could likely get the better of her, and that is exactly what happened throughout this episode. She sided too eagerly with Mattson, and it not only ruined things with Tom, but there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to ruin things with Kendall and Roman.

While she tries to pretend that she’s on their side at moments throughout the episode, the truth had to be blatantly obvious to everyone at that party. Shiv spends practically the entire episode at Mattson’s side, openly helping him convince people to back him in buying Waystar. Kendall and Roman seemed to have very much noticed. If they somehow didn’t, word would get around during the party. Shiv hitched her wagon too firmly to Mattson, and at just the wrong time, as we found out that his gross harassment of Ebba was not the biggest ticking time bomb out there.

Mattson’s urgency about buying Waystar makes much more sense now that we know he’s fudging his subscriber numbers. Again, so much about the business world (especially in Succession) is about illusions and image. Companies make deals based on what they convince others they are worth, not their actual worth. Not only does Ebba talk about Mattson’s fake image as a self-made coding genius, she exposes GoJo’s success as a fake, too. Once this becomes public, it will most likely ruin the deal for good. And now that Frank knows, the rest of the Waystar board will likely back Ken and Roman’s desires to kill the deal.

As usual, Shiv got too greedy, got too far ahead of herself, and is paying the price for it. Kendall seems ready to make her pay the price for it.

Ken has clearly tried to position himself as the actual boss, the true successor to his father, while placating his siblings out of necessity. Meanwhile he has constantly made moves behind their backs, and now he’s outright scheming with Frank to be the one true boss of Waystar. It’s clearly what he has always wanted, and with Shiv and Roman’s combined screwups happening alongside his success at the investor meeting, he is in prime position to take the throne.

The question, of course, is what this will cost him. Shiv will likely be out due to her allegiance to Mattson. Roman’s gross misconduct with Gerri is likely going to ruin his shred of credibility. They would both need Kendall’s support to maintain any power, and he ends this episode by stating his desire to wield power solo. I’d argue that he has so enthusiastically supported Roman’s firing spree because he knows it is ruining Roman.

That leaves Kendall to choose his ambitions over his family, just like Shiv is attempting with Mattson, and just as he watched Logan successfully manage his entire life.

Succession has shown us over and over how Kendall cracks in these moments, though. He is consistently successful at maneuvering his way towards his goals, only to lose his composure and nerve when said goals are in reach, because those goals are never actually the thing he needs to feel validation and happiness in life. What Tom told Shiv also applies to Kendall; they are broken people, who cannot be satisfied by any amount of validation, because the only validation they truly wanted was from Logan.

And yet Logan was the exact same way. He spent his entire life chasing success and fortune at the expense of his family, but it never made him truly happy. Of course his children ended up the exact same way.

This is the cycle of familial abuse that largely defines Succession’s narrative, passed down from Logan to the others, as we saw again with Kendall and his ex-wife. Kendall has so little contact with his children that you can easily forget they exist, yet there he was, attacking her for “not being there” for their daughter. It’s why Tom attacking Shiv as a bad person to have children with hit so close to home, even outside of her existing pregnancy. Shiv is as aware of this cycle as Kendall and Roman are. They just haven’t figured out how to cope with or accept their complicated, abusive relationships with Logan.

The only one of them who seemingly has reached this acceptance is Connor, who is now living his best life. Succession made his acceptance of the situation clear back in the second episode of this final season. He knows how to live without his family’s love.

Does that make him a well-adjusted, healthy person? Of course not. He’s at the end of a delusional presidential run and just married a woman half his age, who is openly only with him for his money. Still, at least Connor has found a way to be content and live the rest of his life in a way that remains content, which is more than you can say for much of Succession’s cast.

It’s hard to imagine the rest of the Roy children finding even that level of self-understanding and acceptance about themselves or their relationship with their father. Logan’s funeral is soon, and while that will likely force Kendall, Roman, and Shiv to confront more hard truths that they have been avoiding, I can’t be so optimistic to think they will proceed healthily from there. Abuse is not that simple. Recognizing its causes and triggers is not always enough to cope and recover healthily from it.

This is especially true when you have the level of wealth and privilege the Roys do, which makes delusion so easy. The truths are simply too hard to deal with. Most likely, Succession will let them retreat into the familiar half-truths and outright lies they know so well.

Images Courtesy of HBO

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